The Mystery of Durban’s Signature Dish Bunny Chow

The origins of bunny chow, the iconic Durban dish, remain a mystery
The origins of bunny chow, the iconic Durban dish, remain a mystery | © Siyabonga Mkhasibe
Photo of Josephine Platt
Commissioning Editor25 February 2020
View

Bunny chow is in Durban’s DNA. It’s been a classic dish to the city since the 1940s, but how it came to be is shrouded in mystery. Culture Trip traces the stories behind its inception.

A hulled-out white bread that’s filled with a selection of different curries and beans and often served with grated carrot, chilli and onion salad, bunny chow isn’t for the peckish. This calorie-intensive meal comprises a quarter loaf of bread, so it’s designed to keep you going.

The secret to great bunny chow is its accompaniments | © Siyabonga Mkhasibe

For this reason, so goes the story that it was created during Apartheid for indentured Indian labourers, who were brought to work in KwaZulu-Natal’s sugarcane fields. This dish, which takes its name from the caste of Indian businessmen who sold the curry, ‘bania’, and slang for food, ‘chow’, could yield energy for a full day’s work. Plus, it was cheap to make and designed to be eaten with the hands – with the idea being that you start from the ‘virgin’ scooped-out bread at the top and end at the gravy-soaked bottom – so it just needed to be wrapped up in paper.

Another theory around its beginnings is that it was a mess-free alternative to roti and beans. As the law during Apartheid forbade people of colour entering restaurants and cafés, instead people were subjected to ordering meals from the side or back doors of restaurants. Being a thin wheat naan, roti fell apart. This meant people got creative and began using loaves of bread as take-out containers – scooping them out and filling them with the bean curry.

Bunny chow isn’t for the faint-hearted | © Siyabonga Mkhasibe

Some argue that bunny chow was invented for the Indian caddies at the Royal Durban Golf Course. It’s said that the caddies were unable to get off from work for long enough to eat their lunches in the Indian area in Durban’s central business district, Grey Street, so friends bought in curry from the city. With no access to take-out containers, said friends looked to hollowed-out loaves of bread.

Elsewhere, rumours abound that it was created by a chef at the Queen’s Tavern, while others claim it was created at a restaurant called Kapitan’s on the corner of Victoria and Albert Street in Durban.

Chef Prenolan Naidoo’s bunny chow received an accolade in 2018 | © Siyabonga Mkhasibe

We’ll never know the full truth, but one thing is known: bunny chow will live on as a Durban icon.

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel – and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Epic Trips, Mini Trips and Sailing Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travellers and friends who want to explore the world together.

Epic Trips are deeply immersive 8 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and enough down time to really relax and soak it all in. Our Mini Trips are small and mighty - they squeeze all the excitement and authenticity of our longer Epic Trips into a manageable 3-5 day window. Our Sailing Trips invite you to spend a week experiencing the best of the sea and land in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm – and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Cookies Policy

We and our partners use cookies to better understand your needs, improve performance and provide you with personalised content and advertisements. To allow us to provide a better and more tailored experience please click "OK"